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James’ 35th Birthday Dinner at Kusakabe

22 Jan

For his last birthday James took the day off so we could hang out at the Exploratorium and eat sushi at Kusakabe.

As a work perk James gets free entry to the Exploratorium for him (+ guest), so we figured we’d go and see the exhibits that we missed during the Christmas party.

Fog machine!
IMG_20171220_112019 Behold the magnificent symmetrical faces of James! MVIMG_20171220_113002It was quiet for an hour and then a couple of school excursion groups arrived so we decided to head home for a pre-sushi nap.

It’s a loose tradition that we get sushi for James’ birthday so I booked the first seating at Kusakabe. While we waited for the chefs, James opened his present from the cats:
He took a couple of seconds to figure out I hadn’t just given him $2 for his birthday.

I went with the wine pairing and James had the sake pairing (we tasted each other’s and I think mine was better – though his came in more exciting glasses). We both went with the regular omakase (instead of the grand), and ordered from the a la carte menu afterwards.

It was a long meal – I want to say three hours?

Zuke chutoro (soy sauce cured medium fatty tuna) – this was one of our favourites:
IMG_20171220_171848Hirame (konbu cured halibut topped with its own liver – is that even a thing you can guarantee?):
Then Katsuo (smoked bonito with ponzu and daikon):
MVIMG_20171220_172553There was another fish but I don’t remember what it was, and then two pieces of sashimi (photographed here on a jaunty angle by James:
IMG_20171220_173602Then the chef’s assorted petit plats, which we could eat in any order:
IMG_20171220_174809I can’t remember what they were, but we agreed the oyster was the best, that the chip-looking thing was surprisingly tasty (I don’t know why but we thought it would be bland), and everything was amazing.

For this course we were pleased at the size comparison between my wine glass and James’ sake glass:
MVIMG_20171220_175932The next course was some kind of delicious soup – I think maybe oyster?
MVIMG_20171220_180126Our next two courses were blow-torched!
00092IMG_00092_BURST20171220181705_COVER Hokkyoku Iwana (arctic char salmon):

IMG_20171220_181449Followed by Kamasu (lightly seared Japanese barracuda):
IMG_20171220_182110Hotate (hokkaido scallop with sea urchin!):
IMG_20171220_182913I don’t remember what this was, but apparently I demolished it.
IMG_20171220_183729I think this was the point that the omakase ended and a la carte began. James got the wagyu (A5 grade Miyazaki Wagyu strip loin). The photo does it no favours but he liked it so much he made me order it as well and it was fantastic:
MVIMG_20171220_190534I ordered the Gyoku (fresh lobster omelette with organic egg) but we don’t have a picture of it – which is OK because it was the one thing that I wasn’t really that impressed by.

was impressed by the sea urchin!
IMG_20171220_191820The Toro Sushi (low temperature aged fatty tuna belly):
MVIMG_20171220_192505Kasugodai (bamboo leaf cured young red snapper) – I think the yellow stuff on top was dehydrated egg:
IMG_20171220_192510Nodo Guro (Japanese throat fish)
IMG_20171220_193858Meso Anago (sake braised young sea eel with yuzu kosho).
IMG_20171220_193841Zuwei Gani (Japanese snow crab with slow cooked quail egg):
MVIMG_20171220_191833I thiiiiink this was the Aori-Ika (low temperature aged big fin reef squid) that James ordered. I didn’t take notes and have been piecing this all together through photos, the menu, the itemized bill, and other people’s photos:
IMG_20171220_194705Shiro Ebi (baby white sweet shrimp with slow cooked quail egg):
MVIMG_20171220_194732Shirako (Hokkaido cod) – sooo silky, even though it kind of looks like a brain:
IMG_20171220_195237Amadai (Kyoto sweet snapper cured with ryushi konbu):
IMG_20171220_200131And finally, the tiny, adorable desserts! Creme brulee for me:
IMG_20171220_201050 And a yuzu and shiso-leaf sorbet for James (they actually comped this for his birthday, which was very sweet): IMG_20171220_201042It was all delicious! Even seeing the crazy high bill could not diminish our sushi glow. It helped that the sommelier kept us topped up on the final glass of our wine/sake pairings as we kept ordering our a la carte dishes. =D

So yeah, totally worth it as an occasional splurge. Maybe James has the right idea about omakase birthdays …


A Point Reyes Christmas!

12 Jan

James and I spent Christmas in Point Reyes this Christmas. It’s about 1.5 hours from San Francisco, so it’s perfect for a long weekend getaway.

Christmas Eve

We’d picked up our rental car the day before, so got an early start on our trip. Here we are heading out of the city:
IMG_20171224_081946We arrived at the Point Reyes Lighthouse a little bit before it opened. There were very few people around, and on the walk to the lighthouse we saw some elk. This one crossed the road right in front of us!IMG_20171224_095757I guess he has a fancy necklace because they monitor the elk population or something?

We had some nice views of the seashore and (what I’m going to assume were) Cypress trees.
IMG_20171224_100144Before descending to the lighthouse, a warning to us all:
IMG_20171224_100802There were just a couple of other groups, and everyone was very considerately staggering themselves, so we had the lighthouse to ourselves.
IMG_20171224_101407We saw the Fresnel lens and the inside of the lighthouse. James read the lighthouse keeper’s diary and said it was basically the diary of a man slowly going mad. Apparently it was mainly complaints about how little work the other lighthouse keeper did, and also every few months he would see a boat.

The way back up – 308 steps!
IMG_20171224_102810We went to Point Reyes Station to do some grocery shopping (it was slammed!) and then headed to get our oyster lunch(es).

Our first stop was Hog Island Oysters where we ordered raw oysters, oysters with barbecue sauce, and half a Dungeness crab.
IMG_20171224_123909They sold oysters that you could take home and shuck yourself, which sounds amazing. Maybe next time!

Afterwards we went to The Marshall Store. They were more expensive than Hog Island, so if you’re getting plain oysters you should probably go elsewhere, but the smoked and barbecued oysters were incredible – and the barbecued oysters came with a giant, satisfying hunk of bread!

Hog Island Oysters had the pretty fairy lights, but it was really nice sitting on the water with our delicious oysters. IMG_20171224_140411Afterwards we headed to our rental cabin in Point Reyes, ready for an early start the next day.

Christmas Day

We got to the Palomarin trailhead around 8am to hike Alamere Falls. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the area but the parking lot was empty on Christmas Day.

It’s an 8 mile (12.8km) round trip – we actually did 10 miles (16km) because we missed the turn-off. We think there used to be an official sign but now there’s just this mysterious rock arrow pointing into some bushes.
IMG_20171225_102019On our hike back we watched from around the corner to see what people would do, and everyone took the shortcut. I guess James and I are just very untrusting people. =(

After a long and circuitous walk on an empty beach, we finally arrived!
IMG_20171225_113928The falls emptied out to the ocean, which was really cool.
Here is James having lunch at the base while I wandered around.
IMG_20171225_114252When the tide came in it cut off the beach route that we had taken to get to the falls. The shortcut involved a bit of a scramble up a cliff. IMG_20171225_120228At the top there were several little falls before the main waterfall.
IMG_20171225_120731 We think this was the top waterfall but you can never be sure. IMG_20171225_121216
There were a lot of people on our walk back and when we got back to the carpark it was full, which was a bit surprising given that it was Christmas. But I guess I don’t know how full it would have been on a regular day to compare.

We got home, showered and napped. Then we had dinner, drank a bottle of champagne and played Exit: The Abandoned Cabin, an escape room game. It was so cosy and satisfying spending the evening solving puzzles together. What a perfect day. =)

Boxing Day

This was our cabin at sunrise.
IMG_20171226_074223 (1)After we checked out we went kayaking on Tomales Bay. It was a beautiful morning and the water was like glass.
MVIMG_20171226_110400 We spent a lot of the time following this bird around. He hated us; every time we paddled within 50 meters of him he glared at us and flew away. MVIMG_20171226_104019We saw some elk on a beach. They also weren’t happy to see us, and fell a couple of times trying to jump a ledge to get away from us. Sorry elk!
Elk at Tomales Bay failing to climb a ledge, as seen from our kayakWe stopped for lunch on Heart’s Desire beach and then continued on our kayak journey. The water had gotten quite choppy and we were fighting against the current. I say “we”, but unfortunately for James, my paddling was largely decorative.

You can tell by his happiness levels. Here we are, kayaking out:
IMG_20171226_102750 (1)And kayaking back:
IMG_20171226_124600Logistically it had been a poor decision to kayak on the day we didn’t have a hot shower immediately available, but it was the only way I could have fit everything in since the kayak place wasn’t open Christmas Day and the lighthouse wasn’t open Monday to Thursday.

But anyway, we dried off as best we could and headed back to San Francisco. It was a really wonderful way to spend the Christmas break. =)

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at home (OMG my ankles were so sore after the hike) and playing with the cats. Then in the evening Jaimie and Jeff came over and we played Watson & Holmes (where we were all completely out-deduced by James).

Happy Hour Oysters at Whole Foods

25 Jan

Every so often Whole Foods has a happy hour where the oysters are 69c.

It goes from 5-7 but apparently they usually run out long before 7 and the queue starts forming around 4:30. So I told James to leave work early and got in line (I was about 5th from the front). James joined me shortly after and I’m pretty sure that at 5pm the line was all the way to the back of the store. The employees handed out little food samples, which was nice of them.

We ordered 4 dozen oysters ($33.12!) and a bottle of wine (no restaurant markup and no corkage!), got our number and headed to the cafe area. This was half our order:

They were enormous. We struggled to finish them and should have just ordered 3 dozen. A lot of the oysters had bits of shell in them, but for 69c it’s not a big deal and it was understandable given how fast they were shucking.

There were some women hanging out at the tables when the first lot of oyster-orderers started looking for seats. They weren’t eating and it turned out they thought they could just camp a table and order from there at 5pm. The women had to go to the back of the line, which was so long they still hadn’t made it to the front when we finished our oysters and wine. *smile of justice*

Here were the hardworking shuckers.

I overheard them saying that Whole Foods had set aside 200 dozen oysters for the happy hour. Eep!

Like I said earlier, the line was still going strong when we finished. The ordering process was quite fast but the bottleneck would have been waiting for the oysters and finding a table. For cheap oysters across the street from us it was definitely worth going and definitely worth getting there early.

I would have preferred to be able to take our oysters home but it was eat-in only; probably to prevent people from getting Whole Foods to cater their oyster party by ordering 20 dozen.

I was going to finish by writing “I’m soooo there for the next one” but then I looked it up and the next happy hour is the 30th of January. I don’t know if I can hack eating monster oysters every week!

Various Tasty Treats for Christmas

23 Dec

We’re having a low-key Christmas this year – the original plan was to go snowboarding but it’s looking like conditions will be pretty crap, so it looks like we’ll be having a potluck dinner with friends. But a low-key Christmas doesn’t stop me from ordering some December-only food!

Virginia Ham

Chuck introduced us to Virginia ham last year and we love it! It’s so full of flavour and James keeps slicing and slicing but the ham never seems to get smaller.

We learned from last year’s Ham That Lasted A Thousand Years so we ordered a smaller, boneless one this year that takes up less room in the fridge. We’ve been enjoying many salty ham sandwiches.

James: (half-talking to himself) Kaye, you are worth more to me than all the hams in the world.


Christmas Desserts

I picked up some Christmas pudding from a fancy food store in Queen Anne. Apparently this is not a traditional Christmas dessert here, so you can’t buy them in Safeway like you can back home.

I also impulse bought some stollen (one loaf for us and one loaf for potluck). I prefer the Aldi one I used to buy in Melbourne, maybe because it had a stronger marzipan flavour.

Rachel’s Ginger Beer

Rachel’s Ginger Beer is one of the best things about living in Seattle. This is the only thing on my list that isn’t only for the holiday season – every month we go and re-fill our growler of ginger beer. I can’t remember how much the 64oz refills are … I think $21 or $23.

They have lots of amazing flavours like blood orange, hibiscus and white peach. My favourite is the original, though this month we got the new guava flavour which is also delicious – it’s like a slightly sweeter version of the regular ginger beer.

It’s the best drink I’ve ever hard – sharp, refreshing and with a definite ginger kick that sears your throat. Chuck also loves RGB and I told him that it actually ends up being pretty good value for us because a little goes a long way, but Chuck said he can’t stop at one and keeps drinking until the back of his throat is all raw.

I was a little bummed out because we hadn’t discovered RGB in time to show it to Cat, Scott, James’ parents and my parents when they visited. But also, it’s so good that maybe it’s for the best that they never tasted it because then they’d know what they were missing. They would know how empty their lives were.

So anyway, those are my little Christmas food indulgences. =) James has taken the rest of the year off (personal leave in the US is use it or lose it! Eek!) so we’re spending a lot of time bumming around and eating. We also went snowboarding on Saturday and are sooo sore. Mike isn’t sore at all! Why are James and I in so much pain?!

Chocolate Making Class at Chocolate Box

23 Jan

A couple of weeks ago a friend turned 30 and to celebrate his girlfriend took a bunch of us out to a chocolate class at Chocolate Box in Downtown Seattle.

They had a class area set up in a little nook at the back of the store. You can see on the shelves that they also sold wine. The guy explained that they can’t compete on price with the big stores so they focus on selling chocolate and wine from (mainly local) small producers.

To begin with they gave us some hot chocolate with marshmallows. The photo made it look a bit gross but it was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had!

It’s made from melted chocolate, not cocoa powder, and it was really rich – more chocolatey than milky. The marshmallows were also really good – apparently they’re made by hand by some local company. By the way it’s a small cup (maybe shot glass sized), not giant marshmallows.

At the start of the class we learned about how chocolate is made (from a fruit!) and what it goes through to become a chocolate bar. You can wiki the process if you’re interested but this is one of the steps – the cocoa nib. Please forgive my gross gym calluses.

The nib is pretty much a health food but it is super gross. Apparently some people don’t mind it but I found it really bitter.

The guy also talked about distinguishing good chocolate from mass market chocolate. The main one that I remember is that good chocolate has a lingering mouthfeel – it kind of coats your mouth even after you’ve eaten it, if that makes sense. It’s also rich enough that I reeeaaally didn’t want to eat lots of it.

After the talk we made our own chocolate bars and decorated them with nuts, fruits and spices. As the birthday boy Luke was allowed to lick the spoon.

Our chocolate bars were taken off to cool while we did the rest of the class and we got them back at the end.

The top one is mine. I had cardamom, sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts and peanut butter chips.

The bottom one if James’. He used habanero sugar, peanut butter chips and dried fruit.

By the way the habanero sugar was awesome – sweet but with a spicy kick. I don’t know what you’d use it for but I was pretty much sprinkling it on my hand and licking it off.

For the next part of the class we got to temper our own chocolate and coat various things (marshmallow, tortilla chip, strawberry and two biscuits) with it. James decided to be artistic and put one of the biscuits on top of the marshmallow to form a chocolate mushroom.

There was a granite stone underneath the paper to cool the chocolate. But if we just left it like that it would have cooled unevenly so we had to keep lifting up the melted chocolate with our fingers and letting it trickle down. This is James working on his chocolate. I don’t know why he is as rosy as Santa.

To test whether it was done we had to dab some on our wrists; if it felt warm or at body temperature it was too warm, but if it felt cool then it was at the correct temperature. Mine took ages to harden, which was a sign that I didn’t temper it properly. =(

We got to keep the leftover chocolate – but it’s really rich so I’m still making my way through it a week later.

James was much better at it than me. His chocolates turned out really well – they got a nice hard shell quite quickly and the guys that worked there commented on his tempering skills. On the right you can see his chocolate mushroom.

We also got a delicious teeny, tiny cupcake while we waited for the chocolate to cool.

That strawberry in the background is one that James dropped on the ground earlier. Luckily they brought over a replacement strawberry for him.

Some of the guys forgot about their strawberries until a few days later so had to throw them out. Which was unfortunately because they were really tasty. James ate his a day after I did, but was a bit grumpy that I had remembered to eat mine but hadn’t thought to put his in the fridge. Sorry Jamesy!

Here are the guys sampling a bunch of chocolates at the end of the class. Behind the bar is where we were earlier, and in the background you can see James packing all our chocolates up.

Everyone shopped while we waited for our chocolates to cool (a lot of us had tempered poorly!). We were all given 10% off vouchers as a thank you – I haven’t used mine yet but I want to pick up some chocolate bits to use in cookies and some of the chocolates that we sampled.

Overall it was really fun! We learned some useful chocolate facts (chocolate doesn’t get better with age – the best time to eat chocolate is now!) and had a great day out with friends.

Actually now that I think about it I think we spent that whole weekend with the same group of people (snowboarding and dinner on Saturday, and on Sunday brunch, the chocolate party, and another friend’s housewarming party in the evening). Everyone gets along and we do lots of stuff together. I think we got really lucky with James’ team – living in Seattle would be much less fun if he didn’t work with such great people.

God Bless America

14 Aug

12 packs of pop tarts for $19ish from Amazon!

They are James’ guilty pleasure and after extensive taste tests he has determined that frosted blueberry is the best flavour. (Frosted cherry is second best)

Now I no longer have to see James’ forlorn labrador face when we run out of junk food. Also we have many chances to win $100.


Christmas Loot!

27 Dec

This year for Christmas I got …

Two books on breadmaking from Ivanna for my Cousin KK gift.

Cat bought me The Homesick Texan Cookbook, a wooden recipe book holder, and a salt cellar.

My $10 lucky dip gift was a USB fan.

And some Bundaberg Reserve rum from mum and dad that I didn’t take a photo of. James will likely drink some and I may attempt a Christmas pudding with it for next year.

Then on Boxing Day we did Christmas with James’ family. Liz and Andrew bought me a deep exfoliating mask from Dr Sebagh, which I’ve wanted ever since I tried a sample. They found it on my Amazon wish list and bought it for me. =)

James’ grandma got me a pretty necklace.

And James’ uncle Sandy got us each $25 Dymocks gift vouchers. It’s a bit of a tradition now for me and James to go to the Dymocks boxing day sale (20% off storewide) so I can buy a cookbook with the voucher. =) This year I narrowed it down to 3 books and James picked the one he liked the best – we got the Gingerboy cookbook.

It has just occurred to me that I am going to have to clear out some shelf room for my ever-growing collection of cookbooks. But anyway, those were the lovely, lovely presents I got for Christmas this year! =)